We who Raced the Streetlights Home

I have been noticing, since the spread and fear over #Covid19 or #Coronavirus that there has been an interesting trend arising...


Now to put this into context, for quite some time now, there has been a somewhat artificially inflated conflict between the generations we know as the #Boomers and the #Millennials ; those born towards the end of the 21st century, and those born following World War II.


The now generic #OKBoomer memes seem to be the automatic response for many younger people when an older person says something they do not agree with, not always but, it seems, more often than it used to be.


How it All Began


In 2016, a divisive figure arose in the world of politics and he divided the two extremes on the generational scale. For those conisdred Boomers, he spoke sense and appealed to many of their values, he is of their generation after all. For Millennials, he was everything that was wrong with the world, embodying what they were sure was the cause for, at least, a great many of our world's ills.


Millennials grew up a world where racism, bigotry, sexism, and any form of discrimination was simply unacceptable. Gender was a less simple concept and technology was an integral part of their lives.


For the Boomer generation, the world had changed spectaculary in their lifetime and they were, to put it simply, in unknown waters, adrift without points of reference. There was agreat deal of things they no longer understood. In typical human fashion, lashing out was much easier than communicating.


I can attest that, as one advances in years, that one is less inclined to change one's ways of doing things, one has gotten used to doing them one way and is somewhat less flexible when it comes to dynamicity.


For Millennials, their world has been in a state of constant change for most of their lives. They have lived through what the proverb calls 'interesting times'. The energy of the youth combined with an irrespressible appetite to know, to experience, and to share.


Let's see how the 'other side' views their 'adversary';


Boomers; are the old, or at least elderly. They tend to be conservative in their views, inflexible in their opinions and not shy about vocally sharing them. They think Millennials need to do something with their lives and have no tolerance for protests of a changed world and difficult economic times. They think they know best and everyone must conform to what their idea of best is. They are either intentionally or inadertantly racist and do not like those they consider different. As people referred to as Boomers are usually white, they tolerate no equality for people of other enthnicities, women being considered equal or anyone getting a 'free ride'. They proscribe to what are commonly known as 'traditional views'.


Millennials; they are the lazy generation, always complaining about how life is not fair, sharing their feelings on their phones, to which they are glued 24 hours a day. They wouldn't know what a good day's work was if it slapped them about their whining mouth and expect everything to handed to them on a plate. Most of them don't even know how to cook or look after a house and seem in no rush to make anything of themselves besides a mess, so they can complain about and blame the older generation for it afterwards. They didn't have it like we did; we had it rough but we came through!


The conflict which the media has fomented, though, represents things usimg the now common "Two Tribes Strategy". Either you're an old Boomer without a clue or a Millennial, also without a clue, only about different things.


I, at the age of almost 45, born in 1975, have been "OK Boomer"ed on social media often. My parents are Boomers and proud of it, and we did learn quite a few things from them. OK we rebelled against it in our youth as children will, but, as we got older, we learned that maybe they had a point about more than a few things....


Generation X


Born between the 60's and the 80's, they tend to forget all about us, the original rebels, misfits, and troublemakers.


I will refer to my experiences in England here, I don't have first hand knowledge of what GenX lived in America, having arrived there much later in life.


I grew up in what was known as Thatcher's Britain (for my American readers, she and Reagan shared a love of Keynsian Economics, accumulation of wealth in the right places - their places - and a rather xenophobic worldview), a time of significant change and strong conservatism, ushered in by the country's first female Prime Minister. It was a time when Britain's traditional industries were eviscerated, unemployment was rife, disaffectation common, hope for a decent future dim. Our music reflects that, our movies reflect it, the books we wrote and the constant flux of our culture. A clear class structure was being pushed upon us. Big hair for both sexes, good clothes, influence and wealth were good, not having the right labels or logos on your clothes was bad. Only, if you were what was considered 'working class' obtaining these things was beyond your poor, put upon parents. I am sure we made their lives Hell.


Sound familiar?


Due to this imbalance between the level of earnings and the cost of living, both parents had jobs. We went to school and came back home without adult supervision. We learned to feed ourselves until Mum, Dad, or both got home. We had this sense of responsibility inculcated into us from an early age (Mum and Dad are working all day so why must they come home to do everything?). Life was a struggle just to get by, even with both parents working. We never knew how hard, of course, because children are, by nature, selfish little bastards. I was cooking my Mum's tea (British slang for the evening meal) at the age of 11 or twelve. Nothing fancy, usually freezer to oven confections, but they thought was there. I came home from school, let myself in, vacuumed the house, washed any leftover breakfast dishes, let the dog in, cleaned the bounteous gifts the dog had left in the garden during the day, walked said dog, did my homework, watched cartoons for half an hour, and then put mum's dinner in the oven (Dad was working long hours at this point) or made spaghetti of something else if I was feeling fancy. I walked three miles from school with as couple of friends in all weathers and learned to be streetwise because, contrary to popular belief, paedophiles are not a new phenomenon, the internet and 24 hour news just makes sure we hear about them more often.


At the weekends, I was free, unless Dad needed his car cleaned (plus the dog always needed his walks) or there were errands to be run. I played in the street with my friends almost all day long and chased the streetlights home. For those of you who don't know what that means, your mother would tell you to be home until the streetlights came on (what time that was depended on the season) and woe betide any child who ignored said parental commandment. The monsters who hid behind the streetlights would eat them, I hear.


Scarcity taught us to appreciate what we had (even if we didn't when we got it, especially if we'd wanted as bike, not a scooter), necessity made us creative and unable to remain bored for long, we invented games and the kids kept themselves occupied while Mother and Father "rested". There were no computers, no cell phones; a football of discovered on the street equivalent made our games. We would play hide and seek with teams of ten or more to side, games which could last hours and occassionally result in a child being so good, only a shouted warning from a parent could smoke them out.


We got rough and tumble with our friends but always made up, we got patched up my a Mum, there was always one nurse per neighbourhood that specialised in 'split heads', 'bust lips', general scrapes and misadventures. He learned to roll with it and also to be rather independant because the adults were working all hours just to keep a roof over our head and food in our always hungry bellies. It wasn't abuse that we saw more of our Nans and Grannies than we did our Mums and Dads, it was necessity. I remember a time when my Mum and Dad worked split shifts at the same factory, him arriving from the nightshift as she left for the dayshift. With what they earned and seemingly inherant ability to 'stretch a pound', we got by. They even saved up for treats for Christmas and Birthdays and we went wild for those. I had a pair of Nike Moonboots that, by the end of their life, had to be surgically removed from my feet and a dayglow orange Adidas jacket the theft of which broke my heart. Not just because I missed it and the status I felt it gave me, but because I would be Told Off.


They wasn't beat or excessively punished (though I got a 'good belt' when I deserved it) and, as it turned out, was not punished for having my jacket stolen at school but my parents' disappointment was a thing I worried about. I knew it had cost them a lot of sacrifice to afford that gift and it meant more to me because of that.


There was no credit (unless with the milkman, the 'tick man', or the local shop for a few quid), they scrimped, they saved, they went without that I might have something nice. I got my first computer at the age of 13 and it is still in a box somewhere, it probably might even still work. See, you didn't throw it away, you got pass ons and cast offs or did the same thing. If something was broken, you fixed it because it was often cheaper than new. My computer broke once and, though I did complain often, we waited both until we could afford it (note the group noun), when Dad had time to drive to the shop, and finally for them to do the job. It never broke again....


We who chased the streetlights home did well when we moved from home to go to University. I thought my parents were strict and unfair until it came the moment for me to stand on my own two feet and adult without assistance. I admit, in the first night at my student lodgings, all alone (my housemates came the day after, I got there early), when I could not light the unfamiliar gas oven, I cried a little but in frustration rather than sadness.


Looking back now, I see how that prepared me for my globetrotting in later life. Leaving behind the familiar, starting with nothing and building a life from nothing. I've done it what must be seven times now and this is to be my last. Because no-one could help me (much), I learned to help myself. Because these were the days before intenet and free global communication, I could only rely on myself in emergencies so I adapted, I improvised, I learned.


We are often overlooked, us of the Generation X, because we are the bridge between Millennial and Boomer; we learned skills and values from our parents (thought we tossed aside those which would no longer fit in our multicultural world) and became the parents of the Millennials while we built the world they now value, but it's not all good.


The Crimes of X


We are not innocent. In our drive to ensure that our children suffered not the world we grew up in, we created a monster or two. Mass media saturation, consumer society, throwaway society, rampany want want want. We created that.


We built the surveillance society, the cult of celebrity, the worship of the rich and the famous. We demanded more now and guess what? We got it and look at where it has brought us. We coddled our children and made sure they never went without, we gave them things instead of our time and affection because, in order to sustain the new lifestyes, we had to work longer hours away from home and were too tired when we got there.


In order to create our Brave New World, with our limited resources, we decided to, metaphorically at least, ask Mum & Dad to help. We sold our dreams cheaply thinking our vision was universal and anyone that saw it would be changed, the old habits would die.


They did not, of course. We gleefully handed our dreams to them and what did we get? A new form of slavery that looked an awful lot like freedom.


A Word to the Wise


"There is no growth without change, no change without loss or fear, no loss without pain. If you do not change the roots, the fruits can still wither..."

First you try to beat the system, then you start to realise all the benefits that the system might provide, and they become part of the system. Like the Biblical Devil tempting Jesus in the desert (I had to swing this back to the realm of The Chronicles again), no offer of riches ands influence comes without attendant strings. To those who might truly beat the system, the system will bend efforts to seduce.


Look at where my generation's rebels are now, those we looked up to as the misfits and the challenges to authority. Those who remained true rebels are few and far between.


See, they divided us too, set us against an enemy who then extended us a seemingly contrite olive branch. See, age might not guarantee wisdom but it surely does distill cunning rather well.


Our generation wanted a future and a better world and we thought we could change it from within like a certain young Senator from Chicago thought he could. Like the rest of us, he forgot one important thing; if you don't first change the system, the system will change you


Conclusion


My Millennial friends, though I use indirectly the saying "I've been your age but you've yet to be mine" and that some of what I described sounds condescending perhaps, I am merely drawing parallels to give you an idea of how this fight between you and Boomers is being manipulated.


There are two truths in this existence of ours;


You cannot tell a young person that you know better than them and had to struggle too. Especially if you claim your struggle was greater and theirs of no true importance. It's all a matter of perspective. I know that, as a parent, I cannot prevent my child from making at least some of the same mistakes I did.


You cannot force the old to change by dismissing them as idiots. There is a saying I like that applies here "The old lion will fight harder because he has more to prove and much more to lose".


We have forgotten, in today's world, of dialogue. I hope I have shown you that, despite massive differences (apparently), we have much in common. Every younger generation rebels against the older and complains of their wrongdoings until they, themselves, become an older generation. It is at this point that they complain about "the youth of today" doing everything they did when they were the youth.


This generational conflict and angst, which is fed by the media, will fix nothing. Instead of letting ourselves be divided, we need to do something that will really scare them and find common ground. Ultimately, we all want the same thing at the end of the day, we just learned different ways to go about it.


For example, I had that 'tough as nails' upbringing and had no tolerance for complaining about something without trying to find a way to fix it. If I'm sick, I go to work (not now though, this is different), I don't back down and will find solutions even in seemingly impossible situations (I'll tell you about some of those, including how I got my family here one day). People that complain and need affirmation for their hardships and difficulties (unless someone is dying, has died or is really sick or similar) have always tended to annoy me because I'm very much the 'grin and bear it type' but I'm learning.


We can all learn if we want to. If we want to learn, maybe we can learn to get on?


Let's not be like those that descriminate and descriminate against others just because of the year they were born in.

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Alan J. Fisher; Writer and Poet

chronicles@chroniclesofenoch.com